Back in college I developed an eating disorder, and with it came a thigh gap. Little did I know how many more gaps it would create in my life.
*Note: triggering content and photos.
Before I dive into why I’m living my best damn life without a thigh gap, I want to remind you that this is specific to MY body. I’m in no way shaming anyone who has a thigh gap or claiming those who have a thigh gap are unhealthy. We are all unique and our bodies look and perform differently.
From self-destruction to self-love, this is a fraction of my life-long fitness journey.
Pre Thigh Gap
My freshman year of college I ate cereal at every meal, didn’t work out regularly, and drank every weekend. By the time summer hit, my shorts were so tight I did lunges to stretch them out so they would fit. I hated the weight I put on, and in turn, didn’t feel like myself.
I spent all summer working out, eating (relatively) well, and drinking less. After months of sweat, I walked into sophomore year with a toner body and a heaping side of confidence. I still remember feeling a rush of excitement the first time I actually felt and saw the definition in my quads. I never wanted to go back to my heavier self, in fact, I feared it. That’s when my newfound love for working out went from a healthy habit to a harmful addiction.
Sophomore and junior year of college were my prime eating disorder years, although back then I didn’t know it. I owned my gym rat title like a boss, and would get anxiety if I had to skip a workout. I did cardio every, single, day, in addition to strength training three times a week. At the time, I claimed I LOVED cardio (which wasn’t a lie), but I realize now I loved it so much because it prevented me from gaining weight.
I felt the need to exercise excessively to compensate for my active social life. I’m not going to lie: I drank a lot in college…and I mean A LOT. I went to Syracuse, how else was I supposed to stay warm?! (No amount of layers or blankets could keep my underweight body from shivering. I used to sit on the floor against the heater in my room.)
And with drinking comes drunk food feasts. These were the only times I would allow myself to fully indulge in food. I housed mac and cheese in bread bowls, pizza, fries, brownies, chips, cereal…pretty much anything in sight. I remember making bagel after bagel, standing over the toaster in attempts to warm my frail frame while the dough crisped up. My closest friends used to enjoy watching me drunk eat, because it was the only time they really saw me let loose.
I used to order chicken noodle soup and eat around the noodles. Instead of eating the pretzels that came with the hummus snack packs, I would find carrots or some other vegetable. I didn’t enjoy going to restaurants because I wasn’t in control of how the food was prepared. But my stomach was flat, I weighed under 100 pounds, everyone always told me how skinny I looked, and I finally had the thigh gap I used to yearn for.
Throughout the two years my friends and family tried getting me help because they saw me deteriorating physically and emotionally. My parents attempted to limit my workouts when I would visit over breaks, and it always ended in screaming fights and tears. I tried getting help once, but with my busy schedule it was easier to conform to my reckless habits than try and break them.
I wasn’t living life, I was surviving it. I went through the motions, but all of me wasn’t present. It was like my personality was on a dimmer set to the lowest setting. I remember giving up on myself, figuring this was just the way it was meant to be.
Four years ago, at the start of my senior year of college, on Friday the 13th I broke — and to this day I consider it the luckiest day of my life. My friends sat me down and told me they had made an appointment for me at the counseling center, and they would go with me whenever I was ready. After two years of physical and mental abuse, restriction, and overtraining, I was tired. We piled into a car and went that same day. What did I have to lose?
I started seeing a counselor, a nutritionist, and a medical doctor on a regular basis. The first thing to go: cardio. I remember getting anxiety thinking about eating more and not being able to sweat it out on the elliptical or arc trainer (my cardio machines of choice). I told myself, “try this for a week and see how you feel, you can always go back.” In reality I couldn’t go back; I should’ve been hospitalized based on my weight. But I needed to take baby steps at that point.
I felt like Man v. Food at every meal, but I never let food win. I had to record everything I ate in a food diary, and write down how I felt before, during, and after my meals. At first it was difficult — I felt bloated and stuffed all the time. But as days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, my body adapted to eating full meals again. My personality started rising to the brightest setting, and I experienced an energy I hadn’t felt in years. I wasn’t allowed to know what the numbers read on the scale, but my body felt alive, so I didn’t care. I used this new energy as motivation to move forward, and continue to do so to this day.
My recovery wasn’t easy. It took me two years of major self-destruction to finally decide to get help for ME, not for my family and not for my friends. Recovery is a journey full of small and mighty obstacles that require a person’s mind, body, and spirit to overcome. I was lucky to have my friends and family supporting me through it all, but it was my own inner strength and willingness to heal my body and mind that pushed me forward.
Post Thigh Gap
Four years later I have an appreciation for my body I never knew existed. I workout and train to build strength, NOT to stay skinny. Missing workouts no longer gives me anxiety, even if I ate like shit the day before. I eat a variety of foods to nourish and fuel my body, carbs included. I’m no stranger to junk food, and unhealthy feasts are no longer reserved for drunken nights.
On days when I start falling back into old harmful habits like working out for over an hour after an over-indulgent night, or restricting my food intake before drinking alcohol, I think back to how I felt during my eating disorder: low energy, incomplete, gray (yes, I felt like the color gray). My restrictive diet and excessive workout regime gave me a tight tummy and a thigh gap, but that was it. The only thoughts that cluttered my mind were food and how much I had to workout to stay thin.
I’ve learned that in life we all go through phases. Sometimes we’re meal-prepping every Sunday and working out five to six times per week, and other times we’re hitting happy hour and the snooze button more than the gym. Both are ok!! We have one life, it’s not worth spending your time obsessing over what you’re going to eat, when you’re going to eat it, and how much physical activity you have to do.
Aim to eat food that makes you feel your best, get up and move your body on a daily basis, indulge in your hobbies, socialize with friends and family, and live the life YOU want to live. After I took control of my life, my thigh gap closed while my body, mind, and experiences expanded.
I still have cosmetic insecurities, but I don’t let them control me. I aim to focus on everything my body can do and the memories I continue to make with the people I love. Some days are better than others, but we must learn to accept and overcome the imperfect moments, because they don’t define our destiny.
Cheers to working out for strength instead of looks. Cheers to eating foods that make us feel amazing. Cheers to also eating foods that fill us with happiness regardless of calories. Cheers to boozy nights with friends and family. Cheers to life’s imperfections.
But most important: Cheers to living your best life.
(If you or someone you care about is suffering from an eating disorder, visit NEDA to get help, learn how to help, and educate yourself on eating disorders.)